Official website of the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association

Can we save old growth forests?

Wink Sutton, New Zealand Tree Grower February 2011.

A recurring objective of the world wide environmental movement is the demand to save old growth forests. While there is no doubt that mature natural forests are impressive, is it realistic to always permanently preserve them?

The coastal redwood trees in the Muir National Park, north of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, have achieved impressive heights. The tallest trees are over 70 metres and diameters over four metres. When I visited, it was not the size that was impressive but the general degeneration of the stand. Some trees had lost their tops while the whole stand was obviously past its best.

The trees may survive another century or two but the stand will eventually collapse. The 100-year-old, or more, redwoods at Rotorua have not achieved the size of the Muir redwoods but the stand is very impressive. What so many in the environmental movement have failed to appreciate is that trees are living organisms and that all large living organisms eventually die.

The time scale may be longer than humans but trees cannot live forever. We pay hundreds of dollars to watch our elite sports teams and our favourite bands, but no one pays a cent to visit an old people’s rest home.

A mature forest stand may be impressive but ultimately the old growth trees become over-mature and die. We may wish to preserve old growth forests but in the long term it is not possible.

If we want to continue to maintain mature trees we should manage those forests and not simply just preserve them. As in most of the world’s forests, old growth stands eventually collapse, it is unrealistic to save old growth forests simply with preservation laws and orders that prohibit stand management.


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